Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras likened his country's deep economic slump in the wake of the European debt crisis to the Great Depression of the 1930s in the U.S. while meeting with former U.S. President Bill Clinton in Athens Monday.
"You had the Great Depression in the United States," Samaras told Clinton, who was visiting with a delegation of Greek-American businessmen. "This is exactly what we're going through in Greece -- it's our version of the Great Depression."
Samaras' comments come days before a team of euro zone debt inspectors arrives in Athens to pressure Greece to agree to drastic government spending cuts as part of a €130 billion ($157 billion) bailout package.
The European Union and International Monetary Fund want Athens to reduce its budget deficit to below 3 percent of its GDP by 2014 from 9.3 percent in 2011.
Samaras has said his country needs at least two more years to reach the budget target to avoid further deepening its recession as a result of the spending cuts.
Clinton showed support for Samaras' viewpoint, criticizing lenders for focusing on austerity measures over economic recovery in Greece.
"(It) is self-defeating ... if every day people are saying this may or may not work to give us back a 100 cents on the dollar, so give us more austerity today," Clinton told Samaras.
"People need something to look forward to when they get up in the morning -- young Greeks need something to believe in so they can stake their future out here."
Clinton is in Greece on behalf of the Hellenic Initiative, an organization of Greek business leaders co-founded by Andrew Liveris, the chief executive officer of U.S.-based Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW) who is of Greek descent, reported Bloomberg.
“By combining the support and expertise of the global Diaspora and Philhellene community … the Hellenic Initiative will provide immediate and vital support in ensuring the prosperity of established and new organizations, and more importantly, encourage ongoing education, entrepreneurism and investment that will provide a sustainable foundation for the country’s future,” Liveris said in a statement.
The Hellenic Initiative Program is working in tandem with the Clinton Global Initiative Foundation to upgrade investment and charitable donations in Greece.
In June of this year, Clinton made a similar trip to another troubled euro zone state, Ireland, to encourage investments there.
Clinton visited Greece when he was president in 1999.
To contact the editor, e-mail: